ROCKPORT, Maine — With big money changing hands over tiny glass eels, Maine’s elver fishermen have developed a bad reputation in other Atlantic states as renegades.
On Saturday afternoon, state officials told a packed room of elver harvesters at the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum that they needed to change that this season so that regulators will not place drastic limitations on the fishery or shut it down altogether.
The most important step toward that goal will be to follow the recently set catch restrictions on the state’s 10-week elver season, which is scheduled to begin on March 22. Fishermen will be limited to a statewide harvest of 11,749 pounds, a 35 percent reduction from the amount caught in Maine last year. Some in the room called out that making individual quotas will be unfair toward the fishermen who have been working this fishery long before the price shot up as demand in Japan and China has increased. But state officials were unmoved.
“We’ve got to stay within our quota this year,” Terry Stockwell of the Maine Department of Marine Resources said during the first meeting of the Maine Elver Fishermen Association at the Samoset Resort. “We’ve got to demonstrate to the [Atlantic States Marine Fisheries] Commission that we’re not a renegade fishery.”
Col. Joseph Fessenden of the Maine Marine Patrol then told the assembly of fishermen that they could all help make or break the lucrative fishery. In the last few years, the average price fishermen have received for the catch has skyrocketed from less than $100 per pound to more than $1,800 per pound in 2012 and 2013, making it the state’s second most valuable fishery.
“Anybody that’s helping poachers could shut this fishery down,” he cautioned them.
Some of the fishermen in the room told officials that they would take those words seriously. Very seriously.
“Every fishery has unwritten rules. This year, they’re going to be enforced,” Perry Cloak, an opinionated elver harvester from Trenton, said. “If the lobstermen have unwritten rules — why can’t we?”